City leaders encourage community involvement

March 21, 2014 12:32:51 PM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


What started as a meeting to inform clergymen and community advocates on governmental affairs and seek their feedback became a roll call for city officials and a moment of pause to reflect on the current state of the city and what needs to be done going forward to improve. 


Columbus councilman Kabir Karriem organized Thursday's luncheon at Lion Hills Country Club and called for leaders, including himself, to get out of their comfort zones and make serious efforts to get more involved with the community and foster its growth. 


"Originally I wanted to talk to all the clergymen and then I said, 'We're having a meeting. We might as well bring everybody,' Karriem said. "In Columbus, we do a lot of talking amongst our individual groups, but there's really not a conduit to talk about what we need to do to move the city forward." 


Mayor Robert Smith, Columbus Municipal School District Interim Superintendent Edna McGill, Golden Triangle Development LINK Vice President Brenda Lathan, Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen and Glenda Buckhalter, community outreach coordinator, provided updates on their departments and how leaders can inspire citizens to facilitate improvement on all levels. 




McGill: CMSD applying for STEM grant 


McGill and Lathan emphasized the importance of engaging childrens' interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). McGill said with the opportunities available now at manufacturing facilities like Paccar and Severstal and ones that will be available in the future when Yokohama Tire Company and other plants begin operation, the process of students moving on to successful careers begins early.  


One thing the school district is doing in observance of encouraging an interest in STEM is incorporating such a program into CMSD, McGill said.  


"We have applied for a $7 million grant to help us incorporate STEM," she announced. "If our kids are going to get the jobs at Severstal, Yokohama and Paccar, they're going to have to be technologically literate. They're going to have to be engineers and we've got to do a good job of preparing them at an early age through middle school and then in high school." 


Lathan added that the importance of STEM becomes a topic at every conference she attends in her role with the LINK. 


"If we don't educate our children today beginning in kindergarten in an effort to get them where they need to be when they graduate, Columbus is going to die because we won't have the workforce to go into the industry and produce the products that are coming in," Lathan said. "We have got to teach them the importance of getting up and going to work on time. We've got to teach them the importance of having a good work ethic. I think all of us who have been successful have operated on that premise." 


As for the hundreds of job openings that will come when Yokohama Tire Company readies to begin operations in West Point next October, Lathan discussed the importance of preparing for the WorkKeys assessment. A score of "silver" on the test, along with a high school diploma or GED, is required for consideration of employment there.  


People struggling to get work can get themselves into better financial situations if they put in the work to get there, she said.  


"People who are unemployed complain. If you're unemployed, EMCC has free classes. Go out, apply for jobs, go out to EMCC and take the classes that can prepare you for the jobs that are either available or will be available," she said. "To sit there and complain that you can't get a job when you haven't done anything to help yourself is ridiculous. We have to learn to help ourselves and stop complaining." 




Mayor elaborates on possible millage increase 


Smith referenced speaking at a recent Columbus Rotary Club meeting and being asked about the potential of a millage increase in October when the next fiscal year begins. Then, he said there was a good chance one could occur and reminded that crowd that increases had been avoided for the past three years. He elaborated on that Thursday. 


"I always hear complaints about potholes. In order to alleviate the potholes, mill the streets, pave the streets and do sidewalks, curbs and gutters, we need some financing," Smith said. "There is a strong possibility that this year... we're going to have to have a millage increase. What you need to think about when you think about a millage increase is, 'Do I want to see an improvement of the infrastructure?' I think we can all say yes."

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.